A Holden Commodore makes its way down the dusty highway of rural Victoria as a father and son enjoy a driving lesson. Their fun is abruptly cut short by the appearance of what seems to be a walking corpse, causing a freak accident that costs the father his life.
The Loved Ones takes place six months after this tragedy when Brent (Xavier Samuels), the survivor of the car accident, is trying to move on with his life. Brent is still troubled by the guilt of inadvertently killing his father when wallflower Lola Sloat (Robin McLeavy) asks him to the school dance. Brett turns her down; after all, he’s going with his long-time girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). But this rejection sets into motion a disturbing chain of events. Lola and her father (John Brumpton) kidnap Brent and mercilessly torture him in their home: a tomb of mutants and zombies they created through their sadistic delights. But what is so frightening about The Loved Ones is not the threat of castration, or even the do-it-yourself lobotomies, but what motivates Lola to do these things.
The incest between Lola and the character known only as Daddy is merely implied at the beginning. As the movie progresses, however, it becomes outright blatant. Director Sean Byrnes creates something truly corrupt here: you can’t help but feel a certain amount of sympathy for this outback villain. She is the product of her environment. The dark and twisted home she has been brought up in has warped her to the point of insanity.
The Loved Ones has already been compared to Rogue and Wolf Creek as another great Australian horror. It’s nearly as violent Wolf Creek, almost fitting into the category of torture porn. But where Wolf Creek was hardcore torture porn, The Loved Ones is soft. The graphic penetration scenes are grotesquely implied, the audience is left to use its imagination.
With a running time of only eighty-four minutes, the plot is condensed but not limited. Each character has a carefully constructed back-story. Broken families are intertwined and actors embody these living and breathing entities until the audience is writhing in their seats.
Mercifully, there is a subplot to break the tension of the torture. It is as Pretty In Pink as the rest of the movie is Carrie, but the juxtaposition is welcome. It gives you a break from the dark character that is Lola Sloat and her truly delightful phallacy reversal as she penetrates Brent with an electric drill.
The Loved Ones breaks the monotony of horror by evoking sympathy for its antagonist and using a twisted brand of black humour to both heighten and alleviate the suspense. With colourful costuming and uniquely Australian settings, it is a success not just because of its believable dialogue, but also because of the powerful performances. Robin McLeavy delivers a hauntingly plausible portrayal of Lola and Xavier’s fury and terror indicates that he is completely at her mercy.
The Loved Ones is a thoroughly intriguing first attempt at a feature by Sean Byrnes. It offers plenty of promise for not only his career but also the future of Australian horror films.
Corina Thorose is completing a Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University.